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Responsible gambling charity GamCare has provided a report on its services during lockdown. The report also highlights how COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people experiencing gambling harms.

The National Gambling Helpline During Lockdown report shows that despite lockdown exacerbating existing anxieties surrounding finances and isolation amongst gamblers, their ability to seek help was limited as they struggled for privacy.

Privacy concerns also drove a switch to more live chats than phone calls, as this channel can offer more discretion if families or housemates are in close proximity – many people contacting the Helpline have not yet spoken to their loved ones about what they are going through and want to know how to broach the subject.

Engagement with online group chatrooms increased. Anxieties about COVID were key themes of online conversations, alongside gambling-related issues. Staff on the Helpline flagged increased concern around domestic abuse being experienced by callers.

At the start of lockdown, there was a significant minority of calls asking for self-exclusion via GAMSTOP– highlighting that callers were seeking to gamble again despite previously removing the temptation. This trend has since abated. The report also mentions that, although existing engagement with GamCare treatment services remained high, the number of people beginning treatment during this period was lower than the previous year.

Research from the Gambling Commission, published alongside the report, shows the although overall gambling participation has dropped nationally, 18-34-year-olds and the most “engaged gamblers” have both reported increased time or money spent on gambling, plus using online gambling products they had not tried before.

Anna Hemmings, Chief Executive of GamCare, says:

“There is no doubt that the pandemic has impacted people’s help seeking, particularly in the initial phase of the pandemic when our daily lives were immeasurably changed. Our service users are speaking to us about increasing anxiety, isolation and money worries.

As we now look at further lockdowns across various areas, we need to be aware of the impact and risks for gamblers experiencing harm. We need to be more vocal about encouraging people to seek help despite the external pressures, and to remind people that we’re here to help as we did in the summer with our #ReadyToTalk campaign.

There is no doubt that gamblers and their loved ones will continue to need support, perhaps increasingly so. GamCare is doing all it can to be flexible and tailor its services to meet those complex and changing needs during the pandemic and beyond. From the very first contact you have with us, we can make a difference – if you’re worried about your gambling or anyone else’s, talk to us now.”

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